Defacement (flag)

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For vandalism of flags, see Flag desecration.
The British Blue Ensign.
The Flag of Australia, a defaced British Blue Ensign.
The Flag of Australia.
The Australian Border Force Flag, a defaced Flag of Australia.
Flag of the Russian SFSR in 1954–1991, Soviet flag defaced with vertical light-blue stripe

Defacement is a term used in heraldry and vexillology to refer to the addition of a symbol or charge to another flag.[1][2]

For example, the Australian flag is the British Blue Ensign defaced with the Southern Cross in the fly and the Commonwealth Star in the lower hoist quarter, beneath the Union Flag. A defaced flag may be further defaced in turn, like the Australian Border Force Flag which is an Australian flag defaced with the text "border force".

In the context of vexillology, the word "deface" carries no negative connotations, in contrast to general usage. It simply indicates differentiation of the flag from that of another owner by addition of elements. For example, many state flags are formed by defacing the national flag with a coat of arms.

In countries which pass though changes of regime with variant ideological orientations (Monarchist/Republican, Fascist/Democrat, Communist/Capitalist, Secular/Religious etc.)—all of which, despite their differences, claim allegiance to a common national heritage expressed in a venerated National Flag —it happens that a new regime defaces that flag with its own specific emblem while keeping the basic flag design unchanged.

Such changing ideological emblems appeared over time, among others, on the flags of Italy, Hungary, Romania, Germany (West and East - see illustration) Ethiopia and Iran. As a result, during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Romanian Revolution of 1989, insurgents tore out of the national flag the emblem of the regime which they opposed, and waved the flag itself with which they identified.

It is common for association football supporters travelling abroad for a match to bring a national flag defaced with the name of their home town or a similar local identifier.

Defacing the flag of the United States with advertising or with any other sigil, image or insignia is prohibited by the United States Flag Code, but such flags are nevertheless commercially available, depicting the seals of various branches of the U.S. military, Native American related objects such as tomahawks or war bonnets, and the like.


  1. ^ "Deface". Dictionary of Vexillology. Flags of the World. 
  2. ^ "Deface". Illustrated Dictionary of Vexillological Terms. North American Vexillological Association.